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the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Tony Snow: New Face, Same Old Spin

WASHINGTON -- The new White House spokesman has been on the job now for two weeks and has held several briefings for the news media. So it's time to give him a preliminary report card.

Tony Snow, former Fox Television commentator and talk-show host, is slicker, smoother and more articulate than his two recent predecessors but the content is the same old spin.

Snow describes himself as the "new kid on the block" in trying to get up to speed on the array of touchy issues that he gets asked about. But he is also a quick student and a showman, intense and glib.

Snow displayed some humility at his White House debut, telling reporters: "I just don't know the answer" to some questions.

Also at his first press briefing, Snow apologized for a schedule mix-up and said: "That's just flat my fault."

This is rare stuff in the Bush administration, where no one admits a mistake.

Snow was chosen to give the Bush administration a new look after the president's approval polls dipped to the low 30s, down in the cellar with Truman and Nixon in their last years.

Snow replaced Scott McClellan, a Texan and a long-time devoted Bush aide.

There was a poignant moment at the first Snow briefing when a reporter asked him about the plastic yellow cancer-awareness bracelet he was wearing. He bit his lip and spoke of the trauma he suffered at the age of 17 when his mother died of colon cancer.

Last year he underwent surgery for colon cancer. But he has been given a clean bill of health and his doctor told him the only big problem he would suffer in his new job is "heartburn."

Snow comes right out of right field. He is a strong conservative, so much so that he has often substituted on the air for radio host Rush Limbaugh.

He also has promoted his conservative philosophy as an editorial writer for The Detroit News and The Washington Times and as a syndicated columnist for USA Today.


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On the other hand, there are flashes of independence in his background. As a Fox commentator, he took some swipes at Bush and teased him about his malapropisms. Last September at the time of the Katrina hurricane debacle, Snow said: "No president has looked this impotent this long when it comes to presidential powers and prerogatives."

He also wrote a couple of years ago that "Bush has given the impression he is more willing to please than to lead."

The president has forgiven him, and introduced him to White House reporters as a person who is "not afraid to express his own opinions."

"For those of you who have read his columns and listened to his radio show, he sometimes has disagreed with me," Bush said. "I asked him about those comments and he said, 'You should have heard what I said about the other guy,' " Bush added.

Snow -- who was a speechwriter for former President George H.W. Bush -- struck a deal with the current president that he would have "walk-in access" to the Oval Office. He also will be an insider, huddling with Bush's top advisers on policy matters.

I asked Snow how he was going to make this administration more credible.

His reply: "I'm not going to answer questions about credibility, other than to say that I'm eager to be here and I'm happy to be working with you."

I persisted: "Are you always going to tell the truth?"

"Yes," he replied.

Where have I heard that before?

Snow consulted with many reporters about what he needs to do to succeed in the White House. He already knows the answer: Just follow the party line.

Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas was an American author and former news service reporter, member of the White House Press Corps and columnist. She worked for the United Press International (UPI) for 57 years, first as a correspondent, and later as White House bureau chief. She was an opinion columnist for Hearst Newspapers from 2000 to 2010, writing on national affairs and the White House. Among other books, she was the author of Front Row at The White House: My Life and Times. Helen passed away on July 20, 2013.

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